Safety

FOUR-FIREFIGHTER CREWS MAY BE LAW FOR TEXAS FIRE DEPARTMENT

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 22:20

The Austin Fire Department has been working toward four-person crews since the 1990s. Now a new city ordinance could make such staffing the law.

Mark D. Wilson

December 13, 2018

Austin American-Statesman

Austin, TX, Fire Department

Austin City Council members on Thursday will consider an ordinance that would require most of the city’s fire vehicles to be staffed with a minimum of four people, a move decades in the making that supporters say will improve safety and efficiency at the Fire Department.

The ordinance would essentially bring into law a policy that the Fire Department has already been implementing to make sure that first responders are able to act immediately during a critical fire incident.

The city began working toward four-person crews in the early 1990s.

Austin fire union President Bob Nicks said council members passed an aspirational resolution roughly 10 years ago that called for making four-person staffing the standard by 2019.

With the help of a grant in 2012, the department reached the goal earlier than expected.

“The ordinance kind of ensures that we stay there,” Nicks said. “We discussed the importance of it with council, and they decided that it is important enough to make it a law.”

The rule is meant to keep firefighters safer, but it also allows them to spring into action more quickly during a fire.

Nicks said state law forbids firefighters from entering a structure that is on fire with only three firefighters. Without four-person staffing, a three-person crew could roll up and be forced to wait for additional units to arrive before getting to work, which could result in more lives and property being lost.

While the department has been running four-person crews for several years, staffing shortages over previous years led to concerns that the practice might not have been sustainable.

In August 2017, the council approved a $3.5 million budget increase to cover overtime expenses amid a 124-person deficit.

The Fire Department currently has 91 vacancies, but around 80 cadets are moving through the academy and expected to graduate in early 2019, Nicks said.

“We are at a point where we are getting caught up and we believe we will be able to maintain it going forward,” he said.

©2018 Austin American-Statesman, Texas    Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

LAYOFF DATES UNKNOWN IN WAKE OF HOUSTON FIREFIGHTER PAY PARITY

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 22:18

Mayor Sylvester Turner said it could be months for Houston’s voter-approved, pay parity amendment for firefighters to go into effect. That could mean hundreds of layoffs for city workers.

Jasper Scherer and Robert Downen

December 20, 2018

Houston Chronicle

Houston Fire Department

Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday his administration is moving forward to implement the voter-approved charter amendment granting Houston firefighters equal pay to police of corresponding rank and seniority, though the city has not yet determined when firefighters will begin receiving increased paychecks or how the charter amendment will impact individual city departments.

Turner’s administration plans to lay off hundreds of city employees, including firefighters and police officers, to cover the cost of paying firefighters on par with police officers, a move city officials say will amount to a 29 percent raise costing the city upwards of $100 million annually.

The mayor said he did not know when the city would begin layoffs, but indicated to reporters Wednesday that it likely would take several months to put Proposition B into effect.

“I don’t want anybody to operate under the assumption that even as we move forward to the implementation that checks are going to start flowing in January,” Turner said. “It will take some time.”

During the lead-up to the Prop B election, Turner said the city would be forced to lay off up to 1,000 city employees, including firefighters and police officers, a move that firefighters say Turner could avoid if he renews contract negotiations with the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.

The mayor repeatedly has rejected the union’s offer to return to the bargaining table, saying a court should first decide whether collective bargaining can supersede the voter-approved amendment. The fire union has argued a new contract would override Prop B, and some labor lawyers agree.

Turner’s comments came a day after a state district judge lifted a temporary restraining order that had blocked implementation of the charter amendment. The ruling was part of a lawsuit filed by the Houston Police Officers’ Union against the city and fire union, in which police officers are seeking to nullify the amendment by contending it is unconstitutional.

Asked why the city is only now beginning to put Proposition B into effect, Turner said his administration did not take action while the temporary restraining order was in place from Nov. 30 until Tuesday. Proposition B passed Nov. 6 with 59 percent of the vote.

The fire union, meanwhile, has sought to negotiate a new contract with Turner that would allow the city to phase in Proposition B. Fire union president Marty Lancton has cast Turner’s refusal to return to the table as vindictive, and said after state District Judge Randy Wilson’s ruling Tuesday that the mayor could implement the amendment or “pick up the phone and call firefighters so we can work toward a solution that implements the will of the voters in the best possible way.”

Asked Wednesday about the union’s negotiation offer, Turner did not indicate he has was any closer to sitting down with the firefighters, saying that doing so would go against “what people wanted” when they approved Proposition B. The firefighters, who have contended that the police union’s lawsuit is aimed at circumventing the will of the voters, say it is possible to arrive at “a solution that implements the will of the voters in the best possible way.”

The mayor previously has said the city could not phase in Proposition B, and since has accused firefighters of attempting to confuse the issue by calling for negotiations while the lawsuits play out in the courts.

In addition to dissolving the restraining order, Wilson on Tuesday shot down attempts by the police union and city to secure an injunction on the measure and to halt legal proceedings in the case. HPOU President Joe Gamaldi said he would not appeal the ruling, while Turner did not say whether the city plans to do so.

City Council on Wednesday did extend its contract with a law firm representing the city in a separate Prop B-related lawsuit against the fire union. The 12-4 vote allotted an additional $185,000 in legal fees with Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal & Zech, P.C., bringing the city’s costs to a maximum of $475,000.

That case originated in June 2017, when the fire union sued the city over stalled contract talks, alleging that the city did not bargain in good faith. The two sides never bridged the gap between the fire union’s request for a 20 percent raise over three years and the city’s counter offer for a 4 percent raise over two years.

In that lawsuit, the firefighters are seeking to settle the contract dispute by having a jury set a new contract, a move the city has argued is unconstitutional. A state district judge ruled against the city, which it has appealed to Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals.

The contract extension was the only action item taken by the council Wednesday that related directly to Prop B, but the looming pay hikes seeped into talks on everything from garbage collection to art installations.

“Resources are about to get even thinner,” Turner said at one point. “Money is not printed on a machine behind us. We have limited dollars.”

In September, Turner asked each department to submit scenarios in which their budgets could be cut by 3.4 percent or 5.2 percent.

The looming stress to city finances prompted Council member Dwight Boykins to propose a flat, monthly $25 garbage collection fee to offset the pay raises, which he continues to float despite Turner’s rejection of the idea.

The likely necessity for drastic action without a new contract agreement was evident Wednesday.

“The citizens know what they voted for and they voted to approve pay parity,” Council member Michael Kubosh said.

He and Turner agreed on that much.

“We have to make tough calls and tough decisions,” the mayor said.

jasper.scherer@chron.com                                                      robert.downen@chron.com

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

WASHINGTON PROPERTY TAX HIKE WOULD PAY FOR 30 FIREFIGHTERS

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 22:16

The Spokane City Council approved the measure to be put on February’s ballot.

Rebecca White

December 11, 2018

The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

Spokane, WA, Fire Department

Voters will be asked to pass a property tax increase in February that would pay for 20 police officers and 30 firefighters as well as criminal justice programs.

The Spokane City Council approved putting the measure to raise an additional $5.8 million on the ballot during their regular Monday meeting.

The tax increase on a $200,000 home would be $60 a year. That’s 30 cents on every $1,000 of assessed value, according to the city.

The measure, which is opposed by Mayor David Condon, would pay to keep 30 of the 48 firefighters hired through the federal SAFER grant which will expire next year. The grant allowed the city to hire firefighters to staff Alternative Response Units, which are smaller vehicles that go to medical emergencies, and allow fire trucks to respond to other emergencies.

Condon said the firefighters hired through the SAFER grant were part of a pilot program and they would decide what to do next budget cycle based on performance reviews across the city. He called the City Council’s action “grossly premature,” saying that preliminary data showed that in the city’s corethe ARU teams were effective. But the effects were less pronounced outlying areas of the city.

“We’re looking at how it works,” he said. “But to say we have that information today is incorrect.”

Condon said he understands that employees may be concerned, but the city needed to make sure that the program adds value to the city before going forward with a funding plan.

Condon said his budget, which the City Council also approved Monday with about $190,000 in changes, already added 10 police officers to the force. He said the city should grow within its means and should not ask citizens for funding to pay for services that need infrastructure investments to grow alongside them.

Kate Burke said she had some reservations about the levy because it would increase funding for both police and fire, but she supported more funding because she believes the ARU model is more effective. Burke, who went on a ride along in a firetruck and ARU, said she that using smaller vehicles to respond to medical calls frees up firetrucks to go to larger calls.

“I think it’s a brilliant model and I really support it,” she said.

Mike Fagan, the only council member to vote against the measure, said the firefighters hired through the grant knew their employment was only guaranteed for two years. He said adding more officers might not lower crime if there are not jail beds available or other criminal justice infrastructure that holds people accountable. He said the city should be discussing the jail with the county first.

“I think it would be really prudent for the taxpayers to be a little bit more patient,” he said.

Several fire fighters who were hired through the SAFER grant testified during the meeting and thanked the council for their work. A representative from the Spokane Firefighters Union Local 29 also testified in support, saying citizens should vote for a public safety investment if they decide that is what is best for them.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said he did not think putting a property tax levy without the mayor’s support was an issue and constituents have been asking for more officers and public safety investments.

“I think it’s the most important issue council deals with and the citizens deserve a voice,” he said.

©2018 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.)

Visit The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.) at www.spokesman.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

REPORT: SMALL NORTH CAROLINA CITY NEEDS MORE FIREFIGHTERS

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 22:14

Stanley’s small fire department is facing a shortage of volunteer firefighters, according to a report by an outside consultant.

Dashiell Coleman

December 3, 2018

Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C.

Stanley, NC, Fire Department

An outside agency is recommending that the town of Stanley hire more firefighters.

The small fire department is one of many across the state, including several in Gaston County, that’s facing a shortage of volunteer manpower.

Town Manager Heath Jenkins said the town is safe and that the department has made “huge strides” over the last few years, including transitioning from an all-volunteer department to one with mostly part-time paid staff and better equipment and training.

An assessment by Greenville, South Carolina-based Management Solutions for Emergency Services suggests the fire department needs to find more volunteers or hire more paid staff to make sure at least six firefighters respond to structure fires. Right now, according to the assessment, the town sends out an average of three firefighters on those calls — something that could put the department’s ISO rating in jeopardy.

It’s important to note, though, that Stanley’s mutual-aid agreements mean firefighters from surrounding departments will also respond to fires within the town. The assessment team also wrote that with a few changes, Stanley could actually improve its rating.

“You have very strong fire department records, training and other documentation, but that all does not matter if you don’t get your staffing issues figured out,” the assessment team wrote.

The fire department itself had requested the assessment as a way to get an outside viewpoint on how it would fare in a North Carolina Response Rating System inspection, which helps determine ISO ratings.

Such ratings range from Class 10 to Class 1, with Class 1 being the best. In general, the ratings are an indication of a department’s ability to prevent and fight fires. The ratings can also impact homeowners’ insurance premiums, with lower ratings leading to lower premiums.

Stanley’s current ISO rating is Class 5. Typically, only larger city departments with lots of resources, such as Charlotte Fire Department, have Class 1 ratings. Gastonia Fire Department has a Class 2 rating.

“If the Fire Department does everything listed in this report, the team from MSFES feels confident that you should achieve a Class 3 rating,” the assessment team wrote. “This would be a huge drawing factor for businesses in your town.”

Jenkins said the department’s budget has grown from around $120,000 several years ago to about $340,000 now. The town’s whole budget is about $6 million.

“I think that there are staffing concerns among the leadership in the fire department, and they’ve made those concerns known to the council, and the council has responded by providing additional hours and more staffing and man hours as they could afford to do so,” Jenkins said. “I’m not aware of any situation where the town has been placed in any type of danger or unsafe conditions.”

The highest paid staff member only makes about $27,000, and the cost of a single fire truck can run $500,000 or more — well over the entire department’s budget. Jenkins said the department works to get grant funding to offset as many costs as possible.

Right now, the Stanley Fire Department has roughly 24 firefighters, the majority of whom are part time and paid. During the day, there are paid part-time firefighters. At night though, the department switches to volunteer-only and there’s not necessarily anyone manning the station.

From 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., the department relies entirely on volunteers. That means there’s not necessarily anyone at the station if a fire happens overnight. Firefighters have to drive in to the station and get a truck before responding to a call.

Assistant Chief Michael Hullett said the department is “really hurting for people” when some volunteers are out of town or at their other jobs.

“It’s a common theme,” he said, mentioning how departments step in for each other when needed. “There are many days when we get phone calls from surrounding departments that they don’t have anybody and can we help answer their calls? We rely on them, too, for the same thing, so it’s a mutual relationship. It’s a big challenge.

“You always worry that something is going to happen and you’re not going to be able to answer the call, so to speak.”

The volunteer issue is being felt countywide. Gaston County Fire Marshal Eric Hendrix told The Gazette earlier this year that more than 700 firefighters in 26 departments provide coverage in the county, and that two-thirds of those firefighters are volunteers. Only the city of Gastonia’s fire department has a fully paid staff. Many agencies similar in size to Stanley use a similar mix of volunteer and part-time paid firefighters.

Training for volunteer firefighters is free, but firefighters need about 300 hours of training to get certified, plus about 30 hours a year in ongoing training.

The department is currently accepting applications for a part-time chief, and it plans to ask Town Council to fund more positions in the next fiscal year so that someone will be at the fire station 24 hours a day.

“I have full confidence in the fire staff that we have operating our organization, and we’ll continue to work together for the betterment of our community,” Jenkins said.

©2018 Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C.         Visit Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C. at www.gastongazette.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

BUDGET WATCHDOG EYES FDNY ENGINE CUTS

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 22:12

A budget watchdog group is recommending changes in how the FDNY responds to medical calls and an overall reduction in engine companies.

Jillian Jorgensen

November 26, 2018

New York Daily News

FDNY

Nov. 25 — The city could more wisely spend the $1.1 billion it costs to provide emergency medical services, a budget watchdog group says, in part by reducing the role fire engines play in responding to 911 calls — and then considering whether it really needs all of its engine companies.

In a new report, the Citizens Budget Commission recommends ultimately reducing the number of engine companies, which for years has been a political nonstarter.

The suggestion comes as the fire department, which is responsible for responding to medical emergencies, has seen a steady uptick in the number of calls — responding to 1.5 million in 2017, up 36% since 2000. At the same time, the number of fires in the city has decreased. But while EMS work makes up 84% of the department’s workload, it accounts for just 30% of its budget, the report’s author, Mariana Alexander, a research associate at the Citizens Budget Commission, said.

“The fire department has adequate resources to do its job, and it’s about reassessing how those resources are allocated to match its workload,” she said.

Fire engines are only supposed to be dispatched to the most serious medical calls, when time is of the essence — because they can often arrive faster than ambulances. But that quick arrival doesn’t always translate into much help.

While the engines can reduce response time, firefighters can’t provide the same level of care as an ambulance crew can. And the engines are much more expensive to staff — with “5 or 6 people on a fire truck, and they’re all paid a lot more than your average EMT or paramedic.”

“Sending a fire engine doesn’t necessarily reduce your workload, because the ambulance is still needed to transport,” Alexander added.

Staffing each fire engine costs the city an average of $7.2 million a year — compared to $2.2 million a year on average for an ambulance to make three tours a day.

“If you closed one fire engine company you could fund 10 additional ambulance tours each day,” she said.

But closing fire engine companies has been a political third rail for years — Mayor de Blasio even got himself arrested protesting the idea under his predecessor’s mayoralty.

“It would politically be a very heavy lift for the fire department to do,” Alexander acknowledged.

FDNY spokesman Frank Gribbon said the engines are dispatched to life-threatening calls such as cardiac arrest, an unconscious person, or someone choking, in addition to responding to fires.

“Engines also respond to fires and other emergencies, and we do not advocate nor support closing any of them, as the report seems to suggest,” Gribbon said.

Reducing the role of fire engine companies isn’t the CBC’s only suggestion — it also called for mounting public campaigns to reduce unnecessary requests for ambulances and reducing the focus on response time for minor issues while beefing up the ability to quickly respond to more serious ones.

“Many of the incidents that the fire department are responding to are not genuine emergencies. These are incidents that either medical care is not needed at all or urgent medical care is not needed,” Alexander said.

The FDNY said it has been working with other city agencies to try to steer people to other forms of medical treatment when appropriate.

“We share the CBC’s concern about unnecessary or inappropriate requests for ambulances — and have been working closely with NYC Health & Hospitals, Greater NY Hospitals Association. and the city health care networks that are participating in the Medicaid DSRIP program to ID appropriate alternative pathways for these patients to receive care,” Gribbon said.

The CBC also takes to task the focus of city officials on response times for all medical calls — arguing that while a quick response is vital in emergencies like cardiac arrest, it is less important for other medical issues.

“They adopted this kind of cardiac arrest model of responding to medical incidents where time really matters, you have to get there as soon as possible. But that’s not really the case if you sprain your ankle. It doesn’t really matter if they get there in 20 minutes,” Alexander said.

The city should instead focus on prioritizing lower response times for its Advanced Life Support ambulances — staffed with paramedics — who can provide medicine and have more training. While the number of life-threatening calls have increased, there are fewer Advanced Life Support ambulances and more Basic Life Support ambulances, worked by emergency medical technicians. .Alexander posited that was due to the focus on lowering all-around response times.

“The City Council has been concerned about response times to all incidents not just the most critical ones,” she said. “There’s no evidence that response time matters for those less critical incidents, where as they really really do matter for the most critical ones.”

One way to increase the number of Advanced Life Support ambulances — and their response times — would be to change the way they are staffed. Currently, the ambulances have two paramedics on board. The CBC suggests changing that to one paramedic and one EMT, which would both lower the cost and, spread out more paramedics, who are in short supply, over more Advanced Life Support ambulances.

Gribbon noted the department has sought to change staffing in the past but was met with roadblocks in Albany.

“We need state approval to change our Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulance staffing (currently staffed by two paramedics) to a combination of one paramedic and one EMT,” he said. “We have requested making this change in the past but have been denied.”

Vincent Variale, president of the Uniformed EMS Officers Union, Local 3621, opposes the idea.

“I think that’s dangerous,” he said. “I think with the amount of call volume New York City EMS deals with, you need two medics there.”

The paramedics need to be able to consult with one another and provide a continuity of care, he said.

“I think what they need to stop doing is trying to cut back on EMS resources in a way where it’s going to endanger the life of the people of the city,” he said, arguing an increase in medical calls ought to translate into more resources.

___ (c)2018 New York Daily News Visit New York Daily News at www.nydailynews.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

ILLINOIS VILLAGE OUTSOURCES FIRE SUPPRESSION

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 22:10

In an “historic” move, the Chicago suburb of Calumet Park has outsourced fire suppression services to a private contractor in an effort to cut costs.

Zak Koeske

November 22, 2018

The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill.

The fire station in Calumet Park, IL.

Nov. 22 — In an “historic” move that could trigger a transformation in how small suburban municipalities deliver emergency services, Calumet Park has outsourced its fire department to a private contractor in an effort to cut costs, village attorney Burt Odelson said.

The board voted unanimously Nov. 8 to approve a separation agreement with its firefighters union and to enter into a five-year contract with Kurtz Ambulance Service to provide fire suppression and ambulance services to the village, he said.

“This will be the wave of the future,” said Odelson, who previously spearheaded a push to privatize fire services in North Riverside that was overturned by the Illinois Labor Relations Board.

He said he wasn’t aware of another municipality in Cook County that had contracted with a private company to provide fire suppression services, but believed others would soon follow Calumet Park’s lead.

“It’s going to cause a chain reaction in the south suburbs with the communities that just can’t afford to pay the high salaries, the overtime and the equipment,” said Odelson, noting that he was in discussions with three other south suburban communities about outsourcing their fire departments.

Kurtz, which will assume control of Calumet Park’s fire department on Dec. 1, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

As part of the arrangement, the company will supply 12 full-time firefighter/paramedics to staff Calumet Park’s department in four-person shifts, replacing the village’s 30-plus part-time firefighters, officials said. Four of the 12 will be current village firefighters who have signed on to work full-time for Kurtz, Odelson said.

The private force, he said, would provide Calumet Park with “the exact level of service” as the village has currently.

Calumet Park will pay Kurtz $825,000 in the first year of the contract, with progressive increases each year up to a maximum of $925,000 in the final year of the five-year deal, he said.

That price tag does not include the salary of the fire chief, who will remain a village employee, and costs for building and apparatus maintenance and utilities, he said.

Odelson said he expects the village, which appropriated nearly $1.5 million for its fire department budget in fiscal year 2019, to save at least a half-million dollars per year by contracting with Kurtz.

He said the village’s separation agreement with its unionized firefighters — which will pay them $1,000 per year for every year they’ve worked for Calumet Park — will cut into that savings in the first year of the contract.

Per the separation agreement, the union members will receive half of their severance on Nov. 30 and the other half in spring 2019, with a total village outlay of around $240,000, Odelson said.

Martin Rita, a 12-year member of the department who serves as union president, said the union had proposed various concessions but had been unable to reach an agreement to keep services in house.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” he said. “We tried to bargain to the best of our ability as a union, tried to come to some agreement with the village and we just couldn’t get to that bottom line. The private contractor is offering services for way too cheap.

“As a union we have to draw a line and say we’re also skilled labor,” Rita said. “We truly believe that at some point you can’t bargain away all the things that your predecessors fought for in the past.”

He said he was glad that four current Calumet Park firefighters would be sticking around to ease the transition for Kurtz, but that he still had concerns about the quality of service a private company could provide.

“There’s a lot that goes into this job,” Rita said, adding that he’d made clear to village officials that union members were willing to return if Kurtz didn’t work out.

“I think there will be a time in the future where they may have to come and ask for our services again,” he said. “And we’ll be there.”

Mayor Ronald Denson praised village firefighters and said he’d never questioned the quality of service they were providing, but insisted that privatizing the department was necessary given the village’s dire financial state.

“We have to make some changes if we’re going to survive,” he said, adding that money has been especially tight since Ultra Foods, the village’s only traditional grocery store, closed last year.

Another factor in his decision to privatize fire services, Denson said, was the recent realization that 18 part-time firefighters were pension eligible, and that the village could be on the hook for years of past pension payments.

That, in addition to growing workers’ compensation and health care benefits for the department’s part-time workers, convinced village officials it was necessary to make the move.

“It was just accelerating to the point that it was not going to save the village anything by keeping part-timers,” village administrator Mary Ryan said. “It would have been better served hiring a privatized firm to do it for much less and they carry the burden of all the insurances.”

Denson and Ryan were more conservative than Odelson in their estimates of the village’s potential savings from outsourcing, but said that even a couple hundred thousand dollars saved per year represented a “home run” for the village.

“In a poor village like this, $200,000 changes things. It makes a big difference,” Denson said. “It may not say much to Tinley Park or some other town, but $200,000 to Cal Park changes things, and makes us in a much stronger position that we can go out and…really do things for the community.”

Calumet Park officials said they eventually intend to expand their private fire and paramedic services beyond village boundaries in hopes of generating revenue for the community’s coffers.

If all goes as planned, Calumet Park expects to enter intergovernmental firefighting and EMS agreements with surrounding communities, much like the ones it already has to provide 911 dispatch services for a handful of neighbors through its emergency communications center — also operated by Kurtz.

“We’re going to be leaders again in having the communities join us for firefighting and paramedic services,” Odelson said. “We’re on the verge of a big change in the way fire services are delivered.”

Joe Richert, the secretary-treasurer for Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represented the Calumet Park firefighters union, said this was the first time he’d seen a private firm supplant a unionized department.

“We fought very hard, we fought for about two years to stop this from happening,” he said. But unlike full-time departments like North Riverside, where privatization efforts ran into legal hurdles, part-time departments lack the legal standing to stave off privatization efforts, he said.

Richert said he was “very concerned” about the possibility that a wave of part-time fire department privatizations could strip protections from workers and hoped to address the matter via legal means.

“We’re looking to work on legislation to stop this from happening,” he said. “It kind of caught us off guard and we’re going to try to remedy it through the legislative process.”

Pat Devaney, president of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, which represents 224 affiliate departments and more than 15,000 professional firefighters across the state, said the threat of fire department privatization in Illinois is nothing new, but that outside of North Riverside — where privatization attempts were stymied by the courts — he was not aware of another example of a municipality making good on its threat to outsource services.

Devaney, whose union only represents full-time departments and was not directly involved in Calumet Park’s case, said he didn’t believe a private firm could offer comparable service to a public department and expressed skepticism that the promised cost savings would be realized.

“Despite how this thing is marketed, not only do you get a lesser level of service, but it can also cost more for receiving it,” he said, adding, “It really gets down to the public policy discussion of, should we be making emergency services a for-profit business and at what expense?”

___ (c)2018 The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.) Visit The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.) at www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

OHIO CITY SEEKING MORE FULL-TIME FIREFIGHTERS

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 22:09

Kettering is seeking more full-time firefighters, which will cost the city more, but is necessary because of a decrease in available part-timers.

Wayne Baker

November 19, 2018

Dayton Daily News, Ohio

Kettering, OH, Fire Department

Nov. 19 — KETTERING, OH — Kettering is the latest local community to seek more full-time firefighters, which will cost the city more but is necessary because of an industry-wide decrease in available part-timers.

The city is targeting six new full-time firefighter positions and converting one existing position to flex captain. The estimated staffing budgetary increase is more than $800,000. The entry salary is $65,686, with potential to advance to $86,278.

It already added 13 new full-time firefighter positions in 2017 in an effort to reduce overtime costs. Its department, like in Washington Twp., will have to pay more for the full-timers, but the lack of available part-timers has already boosted the overtime costs they want to avoid.

“Right now, we are seeing an upswing in our full-time staffing model because it is very difficult to attract and retain part-time firefighters,” said Kettering City Manager Mark Schwieterman. “Frankly, the market is for full-time firefighters now. So, it is very hard to get a part-time firefighter because they are filling full-time positions at other organizations.”

Stacy Schweikhart, Kettering’s community information manager, said recruitment is still underway and the city pursued an aggressive campaign on social media.

Finding those full-timers can be challenging because of concerns about pay and the hazards of the position, said Doug Stern, director of communications and public relations for the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters.

“When I came on more than 20 years ago, we all knew we could get burned or fall and hurt ourselves,” he said. “Now, we are finding out about heart disease, cancer, and every illness that is job-related. It doesn’t make it as attractive of a job, and cities are cutting back on their payroll, so they are not paying as well. There are increased certifications you must go through to get the job.”

Departments often focus their recruiting on “instilling the idea that public service is a noble profession and part of it is taking better care of first responders as employees,” he said.

The Washington Twp. Fire Department plans to hire 12 new full-time firefighters to help fill a staffing gap caused by a shortage of part-time firefighters.

“Staffing extensively with part-time firefighters has benefited fire departments and taxpayers for many years, but the benefit is running out,” said Washington Twp. Fire Chief Bill Gaul. “With part-time firefighters being harder to find, we anticipate we’ll need to hire even more full-time firefighters to maintain staffing.”

“Despite an aggressive recruitment campaign with financial incentives to attract and retain part-time staff, the positions have gone unfilled, forcing the department to hire more full-time firefighters at a higher cost, which will ultimately require additional revenue in coming years.”

To fully staff equipment at the township’s five fire stations without routinely paying overtime requires 28 people on duty at all times.

With the new full-timers on board, 16 of the slots will be filled with full-time staff, leaving 12 slots budgeted for part timers. The department has only been able to fill a little more than eight slots with part-time staff, which a greater decline possible, Gaul said.

“This has been a constantly shifting target. It’s been a challenge because, like many departments, our budget has been built around the availability of part-time staff,” Gaul said.

___ (c)2018 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) Visit the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) at www.daytondailynews.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

ILLINOIS CITY APPROVES FIREFIGHTER, POLICE CUTS

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 22:07

Peoria City Council on Tuesday approved eliminating 22 firefighter and 16 police positions to help close a $6 million budget hole.

Steve Tarter

November 14, 2018

Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.

Peoria, IL, Firefighters IAFF Local 50

Nov. 14 — PEORIA, IL — The Peoria City Council voted 8-3 Tuesday to approve eliminating 22 firefighter and 16 police positions as part of a move to close a $6 million budget hole.

Additionally, reductions were made in the city’s community development department. Voting no on the cuts were Beth Jensen, Chuck Grayeb and Jim Montelongo.

The cuts don’t mean 22 firefighters will be laid off, said 1st District Councilwoman Denise Moore. Rather, she said, vacancies that were currently open would not be filled within the departments. The actual number could vary depending on how many employees elect to take advantage of retirement incentives for those with 20 years of service or more.

For weeks, council members have been struggling with ways to close the shortfall in the 2019 budget that has to be approved by the end of December.

The personnel cuts would result in a $3 million savings. Additional revenue sources will need to be approved in the next few weeks.

Second District Councilman Grayeb questioned the impact of proposed cuts to the Fire Department.

“We’re playing Russian roulette with the lives of people in this community,” he said.

While not taking any direct action on implementing new revenue streams for the city, council members approved the first reading of a public safety pension fee by a 9-2 vote with Jensen and Zach Oyler voting no. That fee, if formally approved, would impose a $50 fee on every parcel of land in Peoria with a structure. Parcels over 5,000 square feet would pay $300 annually. The money from the fee would not go into the general fund but go directly toward paying off pension payments for the city’s fire and police employees.

Council members veered off the budget discussion, ranging across a wide variety of issues including Combined Sewer Overflow revenues, state funding and TIF funds. Members struggled to come up with a way to cut the budget without raising property taxes.

A motion by Jensen involved a number of cuts, including reducing by half the budget of the Greater Peoria Convention and Visitors Bureau. That measure was defeated by a 9-2 margin with Jensen and Grayeb voting in support.

Grayeb suggested a property tax increase instead of cutting public safety, but failed to get a second from other council members.

The issue of $500,000 improvements to Roosevelt School in South Peoria, funds that would come through the city using TIF funds, was also discussed.

Councilwoman Beth Akeson called for the council to take up the matter of TIF funding in the near future.

In other news, the council approved two projects in the city’s Warehouse district.

The single largest residential project proposed for the area to date, a $21 million redevelopment of Builder’s Warehouse, 812 Washington St., along with a 60-space parking lot, was approved by an 11-0 vote.

Also approved on Tuesday was another project offered by Larry Winkler. Winkler Lofts was one of the first residential projects completed in the Warehouse District. He has now proposed a $4 million project with 25 units and 6,000 square feet of commercial space at 725 Washington St.

“The project needs an anchor tenant with the 6,000 square feet. The clock starts running, and has six months to find that tenant, and then the redevelopment agreement starts,” said Cesar Suarez, the senior development specialist for the city.

Moore, the 1st District Councilwoman, lauded Builder’s Warehouse for the 20 years it has operated in the 1st District and said that she has heard that the owners plan to relocate elsewhere in the community, “hopefully in the 1st District.”

Moore also said that parking needs in the Warehouse District require a “long-term solution.”

___ (c)2018 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) Visit the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) at www.PJStar.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

IOWA RESIDENTS RESISTING CITY’S PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICER PUSH

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 22:04

Some Cedar Falls residents are pushing back on the city’s program to replace full-time firefighters with dual-trained public safety officers.

Thomas Nelson

November 7, 2018

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa

Cedar Falls, IA, Firefighters Local 1366

Nov. 6 — CEDAR FALLS, IA — More than 150 people came to Monday’s City Council meeting to offer a rebuttal to the city’s recent mailing about the Public Safety Officer program.

People in red shirts signifying opposition to PSO program filled City Hall. Council chambers could not hold the crowd, which overflowed into nearby rooms.

Members of the group “Stand Up for Safety, Cedar Falls” organized the turnout and have been distributing signs, shirts and stickers calling for the city to hire more firefighters and seeking a public forum with city officials on the issue.

A recent “special edition” of the city newsletter Currents was dedicated to defending the PSO program and included data on the cost of firefighting that angered many PSO opponents.

During the meeting 21 people spoke about the PSO program, some for it, most against it. Several were rural Cedar Falls residents, who live outside city limits.

Public Safety Director and Police Chief Jeff Olson addressed several issues they brought up.

“I think there’s a lot of misinformation,” Olson said. He said an enormous amount of research went into creating the program.

“A lot of the cities don’t want to do this because of what exactly is happening right now,” Olson said.

Many attending were emergency responders from neighboring communities.

Sharon Regenold, a retired Cedar Falls firefighter captain, sent a letter to Mayor Jim Brown before the meeting requesting he hold a public forum on the program Monday night. Brown rejected the request.

“If history is any lesson (for those who lived through the mid ’90s) this would not be a productive meeting, but only an anti-PSO gathering,” Brown said.

Regenold addressed the rejection during the meeting.

“We believe that your reasons are flawed because they are not completely based on factual information,” Regenold said. “If you have already decided how this will end you are not listening to your citizens.”

Mark Woolbright, vice-president of the International Association of Firefighters, came from Washington, D.C., for the meeting. He called the PSO program a flawed and dangerous experiment.

“I’m not here to criticize. What we’re here to do tonight is to offer some help,” Woolbright said. “You don’t have this type of showing when you’re doing a good job. There’s concerns here. This is a big deal.”

Resources are available from IAFF for education, media and legal efforts, Woolbright said.

“What I would offer to you is to work with the International Association of Firefighters or law enforcement and get an outside, independent, third-party consultant expert and get some help when putting this together, so we don’t have to use all of resources — which we’re willing to do from Washington, D.C. — to bring out here to educate your folks,” Woolbright said.

Council member at-large Rob Green said he shared some concerns about the program.

“I’m highly concerned that I can’t tell residents what to expect public safety to look like in five years,” Green said. “As residents and taxpayers, you deserve to know the city’s answer to this, and your City Council has a clear duty to find out. Otherwise, the council risks abdicating its public safety responsibility to an unelected public safety director and effectively handing him a blank check.”

Council member at-large Dave Wieland spoke in favor of the PSO program. He noted it was developed over several years in response to state funding cuts.

“Other communities in Iowa are going bankrupt because of the high cost of police and fire,” Wieland said. “So the idea of public safety came from the people of Cedar Falls.”

Several times the crowd erupted in applause for a speaker, and some speakers talked over city officials, causing Brown to bang his gavel to restore order.

In September five firefighters announced their resignations, two citing safety concerns as a reason for leaving. Four PSOs are being moved to full-time positions at the Fire Department to replace firefighters who left.

The outcry is part of an ongoing fight between Cedar Falls and the Firefighters’ Union, residents and activists over the 3-year-old PSO program.

“Our city doesn’t lie to you,” Wieland said. “This council is willing to take a proactive stance, and we’re the envy of other cities. We’re also willing to take the heat for it, and we certainly are taking a lot of heat tonight.”

___ (c)2018 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa) Visit Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa) at www.wcfcourier.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

ILLINOIS CITY MOVES TOWARD 22 FIREFIGHTER CUTS

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 22:02

Peoria City Council has taken the first step toward public safety cuts that include 22 firefighter positions amid a $6 million budget shortfall.

Steve Tarter

November 6, 2018

Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.

Peoria, IL, Firefighters IAFF Local 50

Nov. 6 — PEORIA, IL — If an advisory vote taken Monday night is a harbinger of things to come, the city’s fire and police departments will lose several positions as City Hall tries to claw its way out of a $6 million budget shortfall.

After a lot of comments, complaints and dire warnings, members of the Peoria City Council voted 7-4 in a nonbinding, advisory vote that approved the cuts to the police and fire departments. The vote was on a motion made by At Large Councilman Sid Ruckriegel to approve the cuts. Voting no were Beth Jensen, Jim Montelongo, Chuck Grayeb and Denis Cyr.

During the four plus hour-long special meeting, council members spent hours discussing and debating ways to plug holes without crippling day to day operations. Cutting 22 firefighter positions and taking $1.1 million out of the police budget would have a definite impact, said the chiefs of the two departments.

Fire Chief Ed Olehy said that adjustments that have been proposed would place Peoria’s fire department at its lowest staff in 30 years and mean longer response times for citizens in the southern valley, Downtown and the Bradley University area. He said that computer studies indicate a two-minute difference in travel time without Engine 2.

Fire safety and educational programs will be reduced, said Olehy, adding that insurance costs are likely to increase if the cuts are approved.

Interim police Chief Loren Marion III said a police force that currently has 212 employees would have 205 at the end of the year. Fewer tickets will be issued, fewer seizures of drugs and contraband and a longer wait for officers to reach an accident site would result, he said.

That 7-4 vote wasn’t the final vote and there are several hours of discussion and debate left before the final vote occurs later this year. Still, the vote did signal where some stood.

Grayeb opposed making public safety cuts, warning that public safety and neighborhoods would suffer. At Large Councilman Zach Oyler said if the raising the city’s property tax is the alternative, “We might as well put a ‘for sale’ sign on the city now because people tell me that Peoria’s too expensive to live in every day,” said Oyler, a Realtor.

“We have to make cuts,” he said.

At Large Councilwoman Beth Akeson chided other council members for coming to the meeting unprepared to discuss the budget process, saying the budget packet sent out by the city manager as holding many of the answers that members were seeking. “It’s like going to a book club meeting where you know who hasn’t read the book,” she said.

Revenue recommendations that were previously approved in an advisory vote included a public safety pension fee that would place a $50 fee on property owners of under 5,000 square feet and $300 for properties of over 5,000 square feet. That measure, if formally approved, would raise an estimated $2.2 million.

A 2 percent package liquor tax would raise $700,000 and EMS billing by the fire department would raise an estimated $200,000.

At Large Councilman Eric Turner said the 2 percent tax could hurt Peoria because business would be drawn to adjoining communities like Peoria Heights and West Peoria. “UFS, which probably sells more liquor than anyone in this area, has told me that this would really hurt them. I can’t support it,” said Turner, longtime head of the city’s liquor commission.

City Manager Patrick Urich said that the city has been cutting other departments in recent years and sparing public safety positions. “We can longer afford to do that. Public safety costs (police and fire pensions) are growing faster than anything else in the budget,” he said.

Community Development Director Ross Black explained that proposed cuts to his department — a loss of four positions — would impact customer service to the public. Code enforcement staff would only be available for one-hour meetings and building inspections would take longer, he said.

Council members, after wrangling over budget issues for more than four hours, decided to go over capital projects at a subsequent meeting.

___ (c)2018 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) Visit the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) at www.PJStar.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

ATLANTIC CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT CLOSED TWO COMPANIES ON MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 21:32

DAVID DANZIS Staff Writer

May 31, 2018

ATLANTIC CITY — A shortage of available manpower forced the Fire Department to close two full companies on Memorial Day weekend.

Atlantic City Fire Department Companies 4 and 7 were both closed Saturday due to a high number of sick callouts, according to Chief Scott Evans. A company typically consists of four to six firefighters to operate an engine or truck plus apparatus and equipment.

Since the state takeover of the city’s finances in late 2016, Evans said there is a standing order for preapproval of overtime hours that was not available for the first full weekend of the unofficial start of summer.

“It wasn’t there,” Evans said of the overtime approval. “We’re working with the state to resolve this going forward.”

Evans said that between the two companies, 11 firefighters called out sick Saturday, which he categorized as an “above-normal amount.”

“Typically, we would have had overtime to keep the companies open,” the chief said, who added the procedure, known as “browning out” a company, has happened in the past. “We don’t want it to happen, and we’re working with the state to prevent it from happening again.”

Evans said the closings did not pose an immediate threat to public safety, and he was not aware of any structure fires in either company’s district that day.

Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, issued a statement when asked about the company closings: “Two fire companies were reduced by Atlantic City Fire Department management on Saturday, May 26 due to firefighters using sick time and Kelly time, which are days off provided to firefighters in order to keep the hours they work within normal levels in a pay period. The city’s firehouses remained open with other companies positioned to respond to emergencies.”

Further complicating the department’s weekend was the loss of Engine 3, which broke down around 7:30 p.m. Evans said the department had to borrow an engine from Ventnor for the night.

The department has voiced a need for new equipment, taking its concerns to City Council and the city’s representatives in the Assembly, Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, both D-Atlantic. The two assemblymen toured three of the city’s six fire stations in early May and said the condition of equipment, such as engines, breathing apparatus and hoses, was “disturbing.”

When the Atlantic City Fire Department is fully staffed it has 10 companies, including seven engine companies and three ladder companies.

The department’s staffing numbers were reduced after the state assumed control of the city in November 2016. In October 2017, a Superior Court judge allowed for a reduction of the number of citywide firefighters to a minimum of 180, although the state had sought to decrease the number to 145. Currently, the Fire Department staffs its six stations with 191 employees, 167 of them active firefighters and 10 of them on injury leave.

The Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey is hosting a three-day convention at Tropicana Atlantic City. Gov. Phil Murphy was scheduled to address the convention Wednesday afternoon but canceled several hours beforehand due to the weather. The statewide firefighters union endorsed the Democratic governor in the 2017 election.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

CALIFORNIA FIRE DEPARTMENT CUTS STAFFING TO REDUCE OVERTIME

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 21:30

May 29, 2018

Share Salinas fire crews are being trimmed from four firefighters to three in an effort to reduce overtime as the city tries to shore up its budget, but some are concerned with how the cuts might affect response times.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

OHIO CHIEF ASKS FOR MORE MONEY TO RETAIN FIREFIGHTERS

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 21:27

Louisville is losing firefighters to nearby communities that offer incentives and pensions and city officials say they do not have money to offer them.

Malcolm Hall

May 14, 2018

The Repository, Canton, Ohio

LOUISVILLE – Chief Rod Bordner is telling city elected officials his crew of firefighters and paramedics sincerely want to perform their jobs.

But for them to continue responding to fires, traffic wrecks and medical emergencies, it’s going to require additional job incentives and better perks, according to Bordner.

Bordner has watched crew members leave in recent years to take jobs with other departments where there are lucrative packages, such as pensions in retirement, vacation pay and paid sick days. Louisville doesn’t offer those benefits and it’s hurting the department’s retention ability.

“It is human nature to go someplace to get a job where you can provide for your family and get a pension,” Bordner said at a recent City Council work session. “We can’t afford not to do anything. We are talking about the safety of our citizens. We are talking about the safety of our firefighters. There is no retirement in place except for Social Security. They could go to another fire department and get a full range of benefits.”

It’s a common problem in some municipalities that struggle to keep their safety forces fully staffed and equipped when funding is tight.

Bordner presented city officials with four different proposed staffing solutions. All would cost the city additional money.

During the previous year, the city spent $458,540 in personnel costs for the department. This includes Bordner’s salary, plus pay for firefighters and paramedics while they are on active duty or responding from home to emergency calls.

“Our fire department is volunteer,” City Councilman Rick Flory said. “We only have one full-time employee and that is the chief.”

The proposals

Under Bordner’s first proposal, the city would staff the fire station with four crew members 24 hours a day. That would cost Louisville a projected $1.17 million a year.

However, “we do not have sleeping quarters for that,” Bordner acknowledged.

The second proposal would be staffing the station with four people, two of them working 24-hour shifts and the other two being paid to work from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. This scenario would cost Louisville a projected $1.01 million a year.

Bordner’s third option would be having three crew members paid to stay at the station 24 hours a day. Projected cost is $961,122 a year.

The fourth proposal would have two crew members stay at the station 24 hours day. This would cost the city $700,148 a year in personnel cost. The fourth proposal is similar to how the Fire Department currently operates except the two crew members who stay at the station now for 24-hour shifts are paid their regular wage rate for 16 of those hours. They receive a $20 stipend for the other eight hours.

Under all four options, there would be a need to hire from outside to fulfill Bordner’s staffing plans.

“We have enough turnout gear right now for anyone we would bring on the department,” the chief said.

City leaders: We can’t afford this

City Councilman Rick Flory made it clear Louisville cannot afford the proposals given the city’s current financial situation.

“It would take some sort of additional funding that we currently don’t have,” Flory said. “Right now, in my opinion, I don’t think we can afford this out of our budget right now. Council is not looking at putting a (tax) levy on the ballot at this time.”

The city currently has a 2 percent income tax. And 75 percent of the income tax revenue supports the city general fund. One recipient of general fund revenue is the Fire Department. The other 25 percent of the income tax pays for municipal water and sewer capital projects.

Bordner tallied up how many firefighters and paramedics resigned from his force over the past four years. So far this year, two have left. In 2017, four resigned. And five resigned in both 2016 and 2015.

“We have people come and go,” Bordner said. “Right now our roster has 17 people, and that includes me. My roster used to be around 23. This is the lowest our roster has ever been. We are training the people that we have and they are leaving for full-time positions. We have minimum manning for second- and third-shift calls.”

The issue is not unique to Louisville, according to an official with the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association.

“As a previous fire chief, that is not uncommon,” said Bill Houk, president of the state association. “The fire department or its governing board is only able to do what their voters allow them to do. It sounds like a case where they may need to raise wages or benefits. They probably need to do some type of study or evaluation.”

Houk had been chief of a township fire department in Madison County in central Ohio.

More dialogue

To support themselves, some fire members also work for other departments.

“I know that some of them also work for private ambulance (companies) or other entities,” City Manager E. Thomas Ault said.

The recent council work session represented city officials’ early phase to assess the Fire Department problem and work on a solution.

“We have had some issues with staffing,” Councilman Corey Street said. “We just want to start a dialogue on what it would take to stabilize our department. We are trying to find a solution to our staffing problem. The problem is turnover rate. We want to solve the problem. We want to work with all the guys to solve the problem.”

Louisville, a city of about 9,180 residents, is surrounded by Nimishillen Township, which also has a fire department. However, Bordner did not suggest the possibility of uniting with the township department.

“I think both Nimishillen Township and the city should take a look at forming a fire district,” Councilman Richard Guiley said. “I don’t know if that can be done. I am very open to looking at that. We are struggling with being able to retain our firefighters and EMS (emergency medical service) people. Other jurisdictions are willing to offer them more hours and better benefits.”

Reach Malcolm at 330-580-8305                    or malcolm.hall@cantonrep.com        On Twitter: mhallREP

©2018 The Repository, Canton, Ohio            Visit The Repository, Canton, Ohio at www.cantonrep.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

ILLINOIS MAYOR OFFERS DEAL TO REOPEN FIRE STATION

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 21:25

The New Lenox Fire Protection District is negotiating a deal with the village to reopen a fire station that closed Friday due to budget cuts.

Susan DeMar Lafferty

April 4, 2018

The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill.

New Lenox Fire Protection District

April 03 — The New Lenox Fire Protection District is negotiating a deal with the village to reopen the fire station that closed Friday because of budget cuts following a failed referendum for a tax rate hike, officials said.

New Lenox Fire Chief Adam Riegel and Mayor Tim Baldermann confirmed that the village and district will consider an intergovernmental agreement in their upcoming meetings this month in which the village will provide the fire district with a no-interest loan until the end of the year to reopen Station #2 at 1205 N. Cedar Road.

Fire officials said they have no choice but to ask voters again for a rate hike in the November general election.

Under the proposed plan, the village would loan the fire district $450,000 to keep the station opened until the end of the year, Baldermann said.

“(The loan) would be paid back whenever a referendum passes, not just in November,” Baldermann said. “If that never happens, there’s a good chance the district goes bankrupt, then the are bigger problems.”

The village loan would come from money in a property tax refund, which would be a 50 percent refund, instead of 75 percent, Baldermann said.

“Obviously this is a short term solution. This would get us to November,” said Riegel, who has not seen the details of the agreement. “Hopefully, we can pay it back without causing more (financial) damage later. Hopefully, we can work out something that will help everyone.”

“The voters will have to make the ultimate decision,” Baldermann said.

In the March 20 primary, a referendum to increase the fire district’s tax rate to 59 cents from 38 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation was defeated by 212 votes, Deputy Chief Dan Turner said.

The fire board also voted to issue $750,000 in Tax Anticipation Warrants and cut four firefighter/paramedic positions.

The NLFPD has not had a tax rate increase since 1989, but has tried to pass referendums five times over the past 12 years, in 2006, 2009, 2011, 2014, and March 2018, according to district information.

“This is a matter of public safety. Everyone is concerned about this,” said Baldermann, adding that he is “confident” his board of trustees would agree to the loan.

The village board will review the proposal for the first time at its April 9 meeting and give community chance to discuss it. If the fire board of trustees agrees to it at its April 16 meeting, it could be approved by the village board April 24, the mayor said.

Riegel said Baldermann reached out to fire officials last Thursday after the announcement to close the station was made “to see if they could do something to help us.”

On Monday, the mayor announced on FaceBook that he is working on a deal to reopen the station, explaining that the funds would come from property tax revenues paid by village residents, which make up 55 percent of the population served by the fire district.

“That doesn’t matter to me. These are people’s lives we are talking about,” Baldermann said. “This is an immediate public safety issue — not just for the north side of town. It effects the entire community.”

Riegel agreed.

“Anytime you reduce manpower or equipment, it could adversely affect the entire community,” he said.

Baldermann said it also does not look good for the community to have a “shuttered fire station.”

“We want to see the north side develop, and it does not bode well to tell developers that the closest fire station is out of business,” he said.

The mayor said he met with fire board President Skip Minger last week and “asked a lot of questions.”

“I felt confident that they were trying to do the right thing. Clearly there is a need (for a tax rate hike),” he said.

In his FaceBook post, the mayor said he does not like to get involved in the affairs of other taxing bodies, and stressed that the village has “no control” over the budgets or the decisions of the state, county, township, school, library, fire or park districts.

“We work well with all of these agencies and feel they do a good job, but they govern themselves,” he wrote on FaceBook.

“We are not in a position, nor should we be, to provide anything more than temporary assistance,” he wrote. “We are only considering this measure because it is a matter of public safety.”

slafferty@tribpub.com

___ ©2018 The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.) Visit The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.) at www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC
Categories: Fire Service, Safety

ILLINOIS FIRE DISTRICT CLOSING STATION, CUTTING STAFF

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 21:24

After a tax referendum defeat, the New Lenox Fire Protection District will close one of its four stations and cut four firefighter positions.

Susan DeMar Lafferty    March 29, 2018

The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill.

New Lenox Fire Protection District

March 29 — Following the defeat of a fifth referendum for a tax rate increase, New Lenox Fire Protection District officials said their only option is to close one of its four fire stations and cut staff.

Station No. 2, which opened in 1970 at 1205 N. Cedar Road, will close Friday until further notice, and result in the reduction of four firefighter/paramedic positions, Deputy Chief Dan Turner said.

“Without a doubt this will increase response time,” he said, adding that calls will be handled by Station No. 1 at U.S. 30 and Prairie Street and Station No. 4 on Schoolhouse Road, south of Francis Road.

The district expects to save between $640,000 and $660,000 per year by closing the station, Turner said.

“This is a growing community. This is not the direction to be going in,” he said.

The fire district board of trustees also voted at its March 19 meeting to issue $750,000 in Tax Anticipation Warrants to cover the district’s budget deficit. This extra funding will fill the gap between April, when the district runs out of funds and June, when property tax revenues are received.

Nearly all of the district’s revenues comes from property taxes, Turner said.

The current levy is $4.7 million, according to district information.

Other funds come from grants, insurance payments for ambulance service, donations, false alarm fines and construction plan reviews.

While grants and donations provide money for special equipment, “our problem is day-to-day revenue to run things,” Turner said.

In the March primary, a referendum to increase the fire district’s tax rate from 38 cents to 59 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation was defeated by 212 votes, Turner said.

They will “have to” try again for a rate hike in November, he said.

The New Lenox Fire Protection District has not had a tax rate increase since 1989, but has tried to pass referendums five times over the past 12 years, in 2006, 2009, 2011, 2014 and March 2018.

During this time, the district cut back on spending and was able to tighten its belt, but it can no longer afford to operate at less than half of the budgets of neighboring towns, while providing the same services, according to a district-issued news release.

Since 1989, the population has more than doubled from 16,574 to 42,172 and the number of commercial and industrial buildings also has grown significantly, resulting in an increase in calls, from 890 in 1990, to 4,252 in 2017, according to district data.

According to a brochure handed out during this most recent campaign, New Lenox Fire Protection District’s 38 cents is the lowest tax rate in the area. It is second to the Frankfort Fire Protection District, with a rate of 80 cents, which generates a levy of $10.6 million. Frankfort had 4,377 calls in 2017.

Earlier this year, one administrative position in human resources was eliminated when an employee left. Programs using shift personnel and apparatus for long periods of time will be reduced or eliminated, fire officials said in a news release.

“These decisions were made with heavy hearts, and the task of finding ways to cut the expenses was not taken lightly,” said Turner, noting that there will be further cuts if a tax hike is not passed soon.

“Without any additional funding coming our way we will need to keep borrowing money from future taxes and eventually we would owe more than we bring in,” he said in the release.

©2018 The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.) Visit The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.) at www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

POSSIBLE OPTION TO SAVE NEW YORK FIREFIGHTER JOBS

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 21:22

FEMA could be open to helping save 12 Newburgh firefighters from layoffs this summer if the city shares the costs.

Leonard Sparks                                 March 24, 2018

The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.

Newburgh, NY, firefighters operating at a second-alarm fire on Jan. 26, 2018.

City of Newburgh Firefighters IADD Local 589

March 24–CITY OF NEWBURGH, NY– The Federal Emergency Management Agency could be open to helping save 12 Newburgh firefighters from layoffs this summer if the city shares in the costs, a representative for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney told the City Council.

If Newburgh used some or all of a $536,635 windfall in unexpected sales tax revenue from Orange County to cover a portion of the positions, it could be seen as a “sign of good faith” by FEMA, Joe Donat, Maloney’s district director, said at Thursday’s Council work session.

Newburgh has twice received funding from FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program, and is weighing a third application. The second award prevented the layoffs of 12 firefighters in 2016.

“Losing 12 members of the department would be a significant loss for all in the city, and I think that using some or all of the county funding that was provided could be a sign of good faith to allow for a more competitive SAFER application,” Donat said.

Newburgh received two-year SAFER grants in 2014 and 2016, each time with the expectation that the city would take over the costs for the extra firefighters when the grant expired.

Fire officials say the extra manpower for the 68-firefighter department has improved both public and firefighter safety by adding one more man to each truck and allowing for quicker deployment of hoses and ladders at fire scenes.

Firefighters have also bolstered Newburgh’s code enforcement efforts.

When the city’s ability to take over the costs of the extra firefighters did not materialize as the first grant expired, Maloney and other elected officials successfully lobbied FEMA for a second grant worth $2 million in July 2016 to prevent layoffs.

This time, Newburgh is debating whether to use the extra sales tax revenue. Last month County Executive Steve Neuhaus called on city officials to apply its extra sales tax revenue toward saving positions.

“I do think that we’d be able to use that to retain a good number and then be able to go forward,” Councilman Jonathan Jacobson said on Thursday.

Newburgh has other needs, as well.

An engineering study will determine if City Hall is still safe to inhabit, and on Monday the Council will vote on spending $112,000 in city funds for the emergency demolition of an unsafe building on First Street.

City officials are also opposed to raising already high taxes.

While SAFER grant funding is now for three years, new guidelines also require that municipalities match 25 percent of the costs for the first two years and 65 percent for the third year.

“At this point, I don’t see us being able to raise taxes in a way that would provide for those additional expenses,” Comptroller Katie Mack said. “And if we hit fund balance … it’s like touching our piggy bank, and that’s not even enough money right now, ”

lsparks@th-record.com

___ (c)2018 The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. Visit The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. at www.recordonline.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT SHORING UP STAFF WITH PART-TIMERS

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 21:20

The Natchez Fire Department aims to fix its problem of being heavily understaffed by hiring part-time firefighters.

David Hamilton  March 16, 2018  The Natchez Democrat, Miss.

Natchez firefighters during a strength and agility exercise in September 2017.

Natchez Fire Rescue

March 16–NATCHEZ, MS– The Natchez Fire Department aims to fix its problem of being heavily understaffed by hiring part-time firefighters.

Fire Chief Aaron Wesley requested Tuesday during the city’s regular board of aldermen meeting that officials allow him to seek part-time employees, something not permitted until that point. The board granted his request unanimously.

Wesley, who has battled heavy understaffing for some time now, said the department had to do something to at least somewhat alleviate the issue.

“We are working with sometimes 11 people per shift, which is supposed to be 16,” Wesley said.

After Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said he agreed with the method of using part-time employees until the empty spots are filled with full-time firefighters, he asked Ward 5 Alderman and Fire Committee Chair Ben Davis his thoughts on the matter.

Davis said he also agreed that the department should hire part-timers, adding that the move could save the city money since it would not need to cover insurance of those employees.

Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier, who was participating from Washington, D.C., via telephone, said part-time employees were just about the only readily available solution to this problem at the moment.

Wesley said the fire department now has eight open slots to fill, and the department has had difficulty recruiting capable prospects to fill those positions. A few weeks ago when the department gave an entry-level test to those interested in becoming a firefighter, Wesley said, only 11 of the 17 applicants showed up to take the exam, and only two passed the test.

One of those two sought another opportunity in Texas, while the lone remaining prospect is still deciding his future, Wesley said.

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard posed the question of whether the city had money in the budget set aside for these employees.

Wesley responded that the department had budgeted money for the eight empty positions, meaning funds anticipated to go toward salaries have sat idle.

The chief also noted, however, that some employees were being paid exorbitant amounts of overtime.

“The human resources (department) can (attest) that there are some people making just about more overtime than they are making regular time,” Wesley said.

As for the legality of taking on part-time firefights, Wesley said he had received approval for the idea from the Mississippi Fire Personnel’s Minimum Standards and Certification Board.

Aside from the overt concerns to public safety that accompany understaffing, the NFD’s low workforce could negatively affect the city’s fire rating, which could in turn cause insurance premiums to rise throughout Adams County.

___ (c)2018 The Natchez Democrat (Natchez, Miss.) Visit The Natchez Democrat (Natchez, Miss.) at www.natchezdemocrat.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

GARDEN CITY BOARD TO VOTE ON ELIMINATING ITS PAID FIRE DEPARTMENT

Firefighter Close Calls - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 21:17

If the village eliminates its paid firefighters, who work with volunteers, it would leave Long Beach as the only paid force on Long Island.

The Headquarters of the Garden City Fire Department located at 351 Stewart Avenue in Garden City. August 27, 2012 Photo Credit: Steven Pfost

By John Asbury john.asbury@newsday.com Updated July 24, 2018 4:04 PM

Garden City trustees are to vote Wednesday night to abolish the village’s paid fire department, one of only two paid municipal forces on Long Island.

The village board vote, announced in the meeting agenda, would eliminate all “paid/career” firefighter positions, which union officials said includes about a dozen firefighters, effective Aug. 27.

Garden City had maintained a paid force for the past 90 years, Union president T.J. Michon said. Village officials have reduced the paid fire department to 13 firefighters from 36 in the past decade, Michon said. Village officials have said they have made cuts to the fire department in recent years to avoid raising taxes.

Paid firefighters said they learned of the vote to eliminate the department when the agenda was released Monday night.

Village officials said they have been considering eliminating the paid fire department for a long time, to mirror volunteer forces throughout Long Island “at a great service to taxpayers.”

“The current paid force costs our taxpayers more than $2 million,” village trustees said in a statement issued Tuesday. “The paid firefighters consistently seek work restrictions and rules that restrict our operations that could increase our annual costs by millions more.”

Board members avoided two firefighter layoffs in 2016 by reaching $320,000 in savings through voluntary retirements.

The paid force works in conjunction with about 100 volunteer firefighters to respond 24 hours a day, village officials said.

If the board eliminates the fire department, Michon said, residents have 30 days to collect petition signatures to file for a referendum or special election on whether to eliminate the paid fire department.

“Then it would be up to the residents whether they want to abolish the paid fire department, or not,” Michon said.

Garden City firefighters have been without a contract for more than seven years and remain locked in arbitration with the village.

Long Beach is the only other paid municipal fire department on Long Island, with 17 paid firefighter positions, in addition to eight paid paramedics.

The Town of Islip’s MacArthur Airport Fire Rescue squad is a paid department. It serves the Ronkonkoma airport and provides hazardous materials response to nearby volunteer forces.

Long Beach officials said they had no immediate plans to reduce the city’s paid force, which works with more than 100 volunteers. The city had commissioned a report about restructuring its fire department to eliminate positions in order to hire paramedics. A state financing board recommended last month that Long Beach separate its paid firefighters and paramedics from working dual roles.

 

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

FIRE AT INDIANA BP REFINERY INJURES FIREFIGHTER

Firefighter Close Calls - Tue, 01/29/2019 - 17:08

A BP firefighter was treated for a minor ankle injury after a fire in a process unit Saturday afternoon at the company’s Whiting Refinery, a spokesman said.

BP spokesman Michael Abendhoff said the fire was small.

The refiner’s emergency response crews quickly extinguished the fire, he said.

BP was still working Monday to determine the cause of the fire, Abendhoff said.

“BP remains committed to safe, reliable and compliant operations,” he said.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

WATERTOWN FIREFIGHTER INJURED AT GARAGE FIRE

Firefighter Close Calls - Tue, 01/29/2019 - 17:06

A Watertown firefighter was hurt Monday morning during a blaze at a city garage.

Firefighters were called to 529 West Street, where they found a heavy fire coming from a large mechanic style garage.

Officials said the garage housed one vehicle, three motorcycles, tools and other mechanical devices. Two dogs died in the blaze.

One city firefighter hurt his knee and was taken to Samaritan Medical Center for treatment.

The cause is being listed as undetermined.

Categories: Fire Service, Safety

Pages

Subscribe to Volunteer Mobile Emergency Response Unit -- rehabsector.org aggregator - Safety